A Tiger Petting Zoo

22 Jun

Z petting sleeping baby tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

My baby boy with a baby tiger. Chiang Mai, Thailand.


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A petting zoo — with tigers? Truly, only in South-East Asia. But few children would pass up the chance to pet and stroke a real, live, furry tiger cub…

Or, as junior put it, “A baby tiger?! Count me in!!!!”

So today we trotted off to Tiger Kingdom, 20km or so outside Chiang Mai, Thailand.

It’s a curious place. Part restaurant. Part breeding programme.

Part, well, tiger petting zoo. A place to get up close and personal with tigers aged from two months to two years.

Warning sign on tiger cage, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Or not.

Tigers are incredible creatures. And tiger cubs, with their dense, heavy fur, almost as soft as a house-cat’s, and their low-pitched mewing, like a tenor kitten, are irresistible.

Tiger cub butting Z's leg. Tiger Kingdom. Chiang Mai. Thailand.

Tiger cub in playful mood.

The cubs Z met were only two months old. They bat their paws just like kittens.

But their slinking, long-bodied, low-slung motion reminds one that the bat will one day become a lethal blow.

He was entranced. Nervous, too: even cute little tigers have serious teeth and claws. But once he got close he loved the softness of their fur.

Now, one of the things I hope to do as we travel the world together is provide Z with experiences he will remember for the rest of his life. And petting a tiger cub should be one of those.

As he tentatively stroked a snoozing cub’s soft fur, from ears to tail, as you would a house cat, I had that warm, fuzzy feeling every parent gets when children and baby animals combine.

Commingled with the hope that I could shield him from certain harsh realities.

Doped tiger cub flat on the floor like roadkill.

Rather more than a big lunch, one fears.

Of which the realization that the wobbly-legged little creature you’ve been petting is only wobbling because it’s drugged up to its little eyeballs was one.

As we walked away out of the baby enclosure, on a cute furry high, and through the cages where the cubs’ older relatives reside, that inner glow began to disappear

You can pet these grown-up tigers, too. Bathe them. Pose for pictures reclining like a silent movie star on their sleek muscled backs.

While their eyes glaze, heavy-lidded, pupils tiny dots, like so many smackheads under the arches.

Most of them live in narrow wire mesh and polished concrete cages. No stimulus but a table for them to sit on. Like this lioness:

Lioness sits on table in concrete floored cage, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Not, actually, much of a life. Lioness. Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

“Mum,” says Z. “This is REALLY cruel. These animals don’t have nearly enough space to move about. They don’t even have the space to mark their territory. It’s like a battery farm for tigers.”

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if Siegfried, the professional animal tamer, can be mauled almost to death by a tiger he raised from a cub and trained himself, these critters are in receipt of something rather stronger than stick discipline to stop them turning visitors into lunch.

Caged tiger, Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Handle with care. Unless doped.

In one enclosure, two tigers, not dosed up for tourist duty, were bathing in a concrete bath. They had, in fact, rather more space than most other creatures there.

Possibly as much as forty square metres between the pair of them.

For solitary animals whose natural hunting range is counted in miles…

They started to fight. It didn’t, to be honest, feel like playing. It felt like two stressed males fighting for dominance over a hideously cramped space.

The atmosphere among the audience, most of them Brits, came close to bear-baiting.

Now, I’m not particularly sensitive to animal rights. There are many people in South-East Asia who live worse lives than these tigers and to apply the standards of the wealthy, sentimental, pet-loving West in a country where hundreds of thousands of children work as prostitutes is, IMHO, wildly inappropriate.

Further, due to the constant demand for new, cute babies, Tiger Kingdom is knocking out new tigers at a rate of knots. And breeding in captivity, even in less than ideal circumstances, helps preserve an endangered species for kinder times.

And these tigers are clean. Well-fed. Healthy (bar the drugs). Glossy. This is not Peshawar Zoo.

Still… It shocked me.

More than I expected. Even though I had a good idea the animals would be heavily doped before we went.

I guess it’s because, unlike cows, pigs and, more controversially, horses and dogs, tigers are not domesticated and used for food.

Unlike elephants, which have been used for labour and battle since long before Hannibal (and only retired as a beast of burden with the recent constraints on logging), they have never been working animals.

They are creatures of the wild. Pure and simple. Hunters. Who need space.

So… What would you have done? Taken your child to pet the baby tigers? Which is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime experience… Or given it a wide berth? Or am I taking it all much too seriously?

And, more pressingly. There is an elephant camp nearby, where ex-logging elephants make paintings with brushes (among other things). Neither of us have seen an animal make art. Should we go?

Participating in the Gallery, Week 16,, Creatures.

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19 Responses to “A Tiger Petting Zoo”

  1. LaboriousLiving at 10:44 pm #

    What a fantastic memory that will be for Z 🙂

  2. Everywhereist at 1:03 pm #

    This is an amazing post – thank you for sharing. I think that you take a very thoughtful and responsible view, and clearly you’ve passed it on to your son. Not only did he enjoy the animals, but he was also sensitive to the fact that they’re being mistreated. It’s a complicated concept, but it’s clear he understood it.

    • MummyT at 6:34 pm #

      Thank you! I was sort of hoping he wouldn’t notice the challenges they were facing, but I think it’s probably a richer experience that he did…

  3. @jencull (Jen) at 11:40 pm #

    Lovely photographs, what a shame such fabulous animals are being mistreated!

  4. MrsW at 1:35 am #

    That’s a toughie – or maybe not. I don’t think I’d have gone, but then again I never thought I’d set foot in a zoo again after a horrible experience when I was 10 back in the 1970s and I’m now a member of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. I did look into the RZSS beforehand tho and visited their sites before making up my mind. We’re “doing” Florida this year and it’s probably my 5th visit and I’ve always avoided Seaworld, but it’s included in our mega-combi-ultra-because you’re worth it-park ticket so they already have my money – what to do.. what to do?!

    • MummyT at 11:30 am #

      Well… We’re doing the artistic elephants. And I guess you’ll probably do Seaworld… He much preferred xorbing, in the end. No ambiguities about rolling down the hill in a giant inflatable ball…

  5. MrsW at 1:36 am #

    Gorgeous photo of the cub btw… then I read it was drugged (gawd I’m naive) and it’s kinda sad to look at knowing that. I was all thinking “Wow you can pet tiger cubs?!?!?”. Doh!

    • MummyT at 11:31 am #

      It was kind of obvious that the big ones had to be. But, yes, I was just thinking “baby tigers, awwww”… And sort of hoping the babies wouldn’t be drugged. But, of course they are…

  6. Declan at 10:32 am #

    That’s very sad, they need to have some organization to regulate that, I was recently on an elephant trek in Ko Chang, Thailand, and the trainers whacked the elephants, and stabbed themm with hooks, it was very sad

  7. Wow….

    what a post.

    It starts with you going “awwww” “wowwww!!” “how lucky!” “jealous!” and “talk about chance in a lifetime…!”

    then as you go on, and you read what you write… and see the pictures of the conditions.

    Sadness.

    Actually holding back tears…

    I think I’d have allowed my son to go cuddle one too… you were already there, they had your money. And it IS a once in a lifetime opportunity. I bet you’d not go back again even if you had the chance knowing what you did after!

    but yes. I think you’re right. It was more of a richer experience for your son, him recognising the conditions of the animals keeping. Opening his eyes to the cruelty that can be in this world.

    Amazing blog entry… so powerful.

  8. lele at 7:37 pm #

    I take Thai classes here in Chiang mai and also am a Zoology student back in America.

    Only thing I have to say is those tigers are not drugged. Tigers for the most part are nocturnal animals and would only be active at dawn, dusk, and night. They only hunt in the day if hungry or to feed cubs if in the wild.
    Seeing as they are in captivity theres no reason for them to want to be awake during the day. Who would want to be awake in the middle of the day in Thailand’s humid hot weather.
    The Tigers look lethargic because they are constantly being woken up from their naps to take pictures with customers…
    And if it wasnt for the customers, who knows where these tigers would be.
    So, I really wish you wouldnt spread rumors about them the park drugging their cats. Had you had gone in the evening, you would have seen wide awake cats.

    • MummyT at 3:00 pm #

      Hiya,

      The ones which weren’t on tourist duty looked awake, and were fighting, as I describe above: roaring, swatting, holding each other under the water.

      They also weren’t wobbly legged like the ones on tourist duty. The babies, in particular, were barely capable of walking, had glazed eyes and fell flat on their faces when they attempted to walk.

      I suggest you swing by and form your own opinion on the conditions and what subdues the animals to prevent a Siegfried & Roy moment. There’s drowsy or lethargic, and there’s doped…

      And, yes, I agree that there is some conservation benefit to places like this (though generally speaking it’s a fairly limited one, as the tigers tend to be cross-bred so useless in conservation terms, and that unwanted adults tend to land up as Chinese medicine)…

      • Beav at 1:08 pm #

        Hi MummyT. I was volunteering at Tiger Kingdom for a month but left after a week. They do not drug the tigers but badly beat them into submission. There is no conservation program. Please read my blog for more by following the above link and keep spreading the word that Tiger Kingdom is a terrible place.

      • MummyT at 11:11 am #

        Gosh. That’s useful to know. The babies seemed kinda dopy: were they not drugged? Thanks for sharing…

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